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Oregon Trail

OREGON TRAIL

OREGON TRAIL, one of several routes traveled in the mid-nineteenth century by pioneers seeking to settle in the western territories. Over a period of about thirty years, roughly 1830 to 1860, some 300,000 Americans crowded these overland trails. The Oregon Trail was first traveled in the early 1840s. Only some 5,000 or so had made it to Oregon Territory by 1845, with another 3,000 making their way to California three years later. This trickle would turn into a flood in the following decade.

The Oregon Trail totaled some 2,000 miles. The Oregon and California Trails followed the same path for almost half of this journey, so over landers headed to either destination faced many of the same natural obstacles. Departing from the small towns of Independence or St. Joseph, Missouri, or Council Bluffs, Iowa, miles of open plains initially greeted the travelers. The trail followed first the Missouri and then the Platte River. The water of the Platte was too dirty to drink, not deep enough to float a barge, and so broad that it left great mud flats and quicksand in the way of the unsuspecting settler. As the Rocky Mountains neared, the overlanders shifted to the north side of the Platte, and then maneuvered to cross the Continental Divide at the South Pass, low enough, broad


enough, and safe enough for wagon transit. At this halfway point, the Oregon and California Trails diverged, the former heading north. Settlers bound for Oregon Country shadowed the Snake River and faced one last mountain obstacle, the Blue Mountains. The Willamette Valley awaited those sturdy enough to complete this passage and some finished their travels on a reasonably safe boat ride down the Columbia River.

It took six to seven months to travel the complete length of the Oregon Trail. Ideally, those making this journey departed in May to arrive before November and the first heavy snowfalls. However, those leaving too early risked getting mired in mud, and those leaving too late confronted snow at the end of their travels, a dangerous and foreboding prospect. The overlanders traveled in wagon trains, in groups ranging from ten to one hundred wagons. As the trails became better known and well-traveled, most wagoneers preferred smaller trains. Smaller wagon trains moved more quickly and were delayed less often due to internal arguments. When disputes did arise they might be settled by vote or, especially in larger wagon trains, according to a written constitution. On the trail, hardships and dangers proved numerous and discouraging. Accidents, such as drowning, ax wounds, shootings, or being run over by wagons or trampled by livestock, claimed many victims. Sickness, especially cholera from poor drinking water, weakened countless travelers, eventually killing some. Despite the obstacles, people made the journey for economic reasons. The depression of 1837, the most severe of its day, pushed those contemplating a move west to do so sooner rather than later. California's gold rush, starting in 1848, did much to fuel travel west via the overland trails. Fertile land and the potential for wealth from trapping drew people to the Northwest.

Migrants to the West were farmers as well as storekeepers, clerks, saloonkeepers, former soldiers, and other adventurers. They came from all over the United States, including the Upper South, the Midwest, and the Northeast. Because of the difficulty of the journey, most fell between the ages of ten and forty.

Much folklore grew up around the overlanders and their journey. Perhaps the biggest legend of all concerns the danger posed to the migrants by Native Americans. In fact, Native Americans aided, directed, and even accompanied the overlanders. Deaths at the hands of Plains Indians probably numbered only in the hundreds, almost certainly not reaching the several thousands reported in legend. Most Indians sought to profit from the wagoneers by imposing either a toll to cross a river, a fee for guidance down an uncertain road, or by offering an exchange of goods for renewed provisions. Horses often acted as currency.

With the completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869, the wagon era came to a close. Yet a change in mode of transportation did little to detract from the accomplishment of those who toughed it out on the Oregon Trail and other trails. These pioneers had opened a land and settled it all in one motion.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Billington, Ray Allen. The Far Western Frontier, 1830–1860. London: Harper and Row, 1956.

Unruh, John D., Jr. The Plains Across: The Overland Emigrants and the Trans-Mississippi West, 1840–1860. Urbana: University of Illinois, 1979.

Matthew J.Flynn

See alsoCalifornia Trail ; Wagon Trains ; andvol. 9:The Oregon Trail .

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"Oregon Trail." Dictionary of American History. . Encyclopedia.com. 22 Jun. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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"Oregon Trail." Dictionary of American History. . Retrieved June 22, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/oregon-trail

Oregon Trail

Oregon Trail, overland emigrant route in the United States from the Missouri River to the Columbia River country (all of which was then called Oregon). The pioneers by wagon train did not, however, follow any single narrow route. In open country the different trains might spread out over a large area, only to converge again for river crossings, mountain passes, and other natural constrictions. In time many cutoffs and alternate routes also developed. They originated at various places on the Missouri, although Independence and Westport (now part of Kansas City, Mo.) were favorite starting points, and St. Joseph had some popularity.

The Route

Those starting from Independence followed the same route as the Santa Fe Trail for some 40 mi (64 km), then turned NW to the Platte and generally followed that river to the junction of the North Platte and the South Platte. Crossing the South Platte, the main trail followed the North Platte to Fort Laramie, while the Overland Trail followed the South Platte. The main trail continued from Fort Laramie to the present Casper, Wyo., and through the mountains by the South Pass to the basin of the Colorado River. The travelers then went SW; the Overland Trail rejoined the route E of Fort Bridger. From Fort Bridger the Mormon Trail continued SW to the Great Salt Lake, while the Oregon Trail went northwest across a divide to Fort Hall, on the Snake River. It then went along the Snake River. The California Trail branched off to the southwest, but the Oregon Trail continued to Fort Boise. From that point the travelers had to make the hard climb over the Blue Mts. Once those were crossed, paths diverged somewhat; many went to Fort Walla Walla before proceeding down the south bank of the Columbia River, traversing the Columbia's gorge where it passes through the Cascade Mts. to the Willamette Valley, where the early settlement centered. The end of the trail shifted as settlement spread.

The Wagon Trains

The mountain men were chiefly responsible for making the route known, and Thomas Fitzpatrick and James Bridger were renowned as guides. Capt. Benjamin de Bonneville first took wagons over South Pass in 1832. The first genuine emigrant train was that led by John Bidwell in 1841, half of which went to California, the rest proceeding from Fort Hall to Oregon. The first train of emigrants to reach Oregon was that led by Elijah White in 1842. In 1843 occurred the "great emigration" of more than 900 persons and more than 1,000 head of stock. Four trains made the journey in 1844, and by 1845 the emigrants reached a total of over 3,000. Although it took the average train six months to traverse the c.2,000-mi (3,200-km) route, the trail was used for many years. Travel gradually declined with the coming of the railroads, and the trail was abandoned in the 1870s. Many trail sites are now preserved in the Oregon National Historic Trail (see National Parks and Monuments, table). An interpretive center is in Baker City, Oreg.

Bibliography

The classic work by F. Parkman, The Oregon Trail, actually concerns only the eastern part of the trail. See also Federal Writers' Project, The Oregon Trail (1939, repr. 1972); E. Meeker, Story of the Lost Trail of Oregon (1984); J. E. Brown, Oregon Trail Revisited (1988); D. Dary, The Oregon Trail: An American Saga (2004).

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"Oregon Trail." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 22 Jun. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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Oregon Trail

OREGON TRAIL


The Oregon Trail was a route used primarily from the late 1840s through the 1870s to reach Oregon Territorylands that were ceded to the United States by the British in 1846. (The territory comprised present-day Oregon, Idaho, Washington, and parts of Montana and Wyoming.) Measuring 2,000 miles (3,200 kilometers), the trail was one of the great overland routes used in westward expansion. Wagon trains began at Independence, Missouri (today an eastern suburb of Kansas City, Missouri), and traveled northwest to Fort Kearny (near present-day Kearney), Nebraska. From there wagons followed the Platte and North Platte rivers west and northwest to Fort Laramie in southeast Wyoming. Continuing westward along the North Platte, travelers arrived at South Pass, located on the southeastern end of the Rocky Mountains' Wind River Range. Nearby South Pass City became a boom-town during the 1800s. The Oregon Trail then ran southwest to Fort Bridger, Wyomingwhere the Mormon Trail diverged to the southwest (into Utah). Travelers bound for the Pacific Northwest continued along the Oregon Trail, following the Snake River through Idaho. The route turned northwest to Fort Boise, Idaho. From there settlers made the difficult crossing through the Blue Mountains to Walla Walla (then the site of a mission) in Washington. The last leg of the journey followed the Columbia River west to Fort Vancouver and into the Willamette Valley of Oregon. The road could be traversed in six months' time, but it was a rigorous journey that took travelers across prairie, through desert, over mountains, and across flooded rivers.

Explorers and fur traders are credited with first forging the route. The western portion of the trail was covered by explorers Meriwether Lewis (17741809) and William Clark (17701838) in their 18041806 expedition to the Pacific. But it did not become heavily used by wagons until about 1842, the same year that military officer and future politician John C. Fremont (18131890) surveyed a portion of the route for the U.S. Army. After the Territory of Oregon was set up by the U.S. government in 1848, an increasing number of settlers made their way westward across the winding Oregon Trail. The route was heavily used through the 1860s. However, at the completion of transcontinental railroads its importance diminished by the end of the century.

See also: John Fremont, Idaho, Lewis and Clark Expedition, Montana, Missouri, Nebraska, Oregon, Santa Fe Trail, Transcontinental Railroad, Utah, Washington, Wyoming

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"Oregon Trail." Gale Encyclopedia of U.S. Economic History. . Encyclopedia.com. 22 Jun. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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Oregon Trail

Oregon Trail Main route of US pioneers to the West in the 1840s and 1850s. It ran 3200km (2000mi) from Independence, Missouri, to Fort Vancouver on the Columbia River in Oregon, and crossed the Rocky Mountains via South Pass. The journey took about six months. It was heavily used from 1843, when ‘Oregon fever’ attracted thousands of settlers. After 1848, when gold was discovered in California, numbers declined.

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Oregon Trail

Oregon Trail a route across the central US, from the Missouri to Oregon, some 3,000 km (2,000 miles) in length. It was used chiefly in the 1840s by settlers moving west.

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